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The Year Was 20XX

Updated: May 29, 2021

Yeah, you read that right. After our epic three-part look at 2019 and seeing all those “decade in review” posts on social media and YouTube, I figured it was high time for us to do one of our own. It’s kinda funny, actually. We have the wonderful opportunity to have been older than just this decade, starting all the way back in 2005. I’m going to try not to dwell completely on every little bit; otherwise we’d be here all day (you saw what we did with 2019). But I do want to take this opportunity to get a little personal at times. With that being said: blast off!

The 2010’s actually started out really rough for us. Okay, time for some pre-2010 context: see, a lot of you may know that, for the first five or so years of us just being around, we made a bunch of really crappy games with very little intention of anything actually coming out of them. They were mostly just hobby projects made by a group of friends. Then, 2008 changed that when we made the first project that we thought had real legs: Project Zion. It was some generic “zombie shooter in space”, but hey, we were young; what did we know? We actually sent off what we thought was a really polished demo to a publisher, and got the most polite rejection letter possible. We put the game on indefinite hold after that. It’s funny, really; we had a website since 2005, but we only have blog archives going back to 2008. So, if you go look at our first blog post on this site, it’s us announcing that we were putting Zion on hold. Funny little piece of trivia.

OH LORD! Physix was ROUGH!

After that, for a few weeks, we started working on a first-person point-and-click adventure game that we had dubbed “From The Case Files of Sara McCathy”. It was dreadfully boring, and within just a few days of realizing the physics engine we were using was way more fun than the game itself, we scrapped it to start working on a first-person puzzle game about gravity manipulation we were calling “Physix”. This change was made just a couple weeks before our first ever convention appearance at A&G Ohio (this is where we met our musician, Glenn). So yeah, we were supposed to show off Sara McCathy and in that time, Sara McCathy no longer was, and from the ashes: Physix! The convention was such a success that when we saw that GamePro Magazine, of all things, was looking to become a game publisher, we submitted our Physix demo right away. They had thousands upon thousands of submissions, and they chose us as one of the projects to pick up (they chose 10, I believe). It was mind blowing; overwhelming, even! We just had to get the game done. This was May 2009. By November 2009, GamePro Labs would be dead, with the magazine going bankrupt shortly after… but this is all just context. The decade starts now.

Man, A&G Ohio had some memories!

It was devastating! Starting off 2010, having just lost our publisher. Here’s what’s funny though: very shortly after, we would apply to Blitz 1Up (the publishing arm of Blitz Games). They were very interested in Physix, but just before ink would touch paper, they too closed down. At the time, it felt like the end of the world. Like we were somehow cursed to kill any publisher we had contact with. Now it’s just a footnote. 2010 is also when I moved to what I consider my first “real” apartment. The place I had before that was a literal slum. This was the first place that I had a choice in moving. This was also when some Wraith people walked away.

It’s always sad when that sort of thing happens. Throughout our run, we almost always hover at just about how many we have now: 12. Even in the early days people would just move on. 2010 would see us pick up some new people to fill those roles. I’m not interested in naming people, honestly. Whenever people leave, sometimes it’s on good terms, sometimes not so much. We’ve had people leave for health reasons, family, or just creative differences in a project. Of course, anytime anyone leaves, those who stay, especially those who were here from the beginning, double the resolve. Anyway, sorry to get wistful.

Physix looking a bit better. Still very rough, though.

So, 2010. New blood, new place. Soon to be a new project! So, do any of you remember DarkBasic? Oof, DarkBasic. Well, Physix was a DarkBasic game. We wanted to switch over to the then, fairly new Unity. The only problem is, that we didn’t really know anything about Unity. We set our programmers with a task to learn how to make Physix in Unity, while Kristy suggested we work on a side project in the meantime: Collapsus. You all probably know this story. Collapsus was a 2006 “terrible prototype” that Kristy really fell in love with, and thought we should revive. The only problem is, we weren’t entirely sure that it was a good enough project on its own, so we expanded the scope. It became bigger and better than ever. It wouldn’t just be on PC this time. We were shooting for Wii, Android, and iPhone, as well. And we were going to do it all in Corona 2D! Oof.

Yeah, yeah, it then took us maybe a year and a half to decide just to do it in Unity too, after a good chunk of the game was already done in Corona. Corona was just not powerful enough. Unity made a lot of sense, because we already had to learn it for Physix. We put one of our programmers on Physix, while the other two hit Collapsus… except that the Physix programmer wanted to do another small game to cut his teeth on. That’s what gave us Fly Guy. Oh, Fly Guy… where do I begin? There’s this… joke… that I always tell in interviews and at the booth. People ask what games we’ve made before, and I always say, “Oh, and Fly Guy. If you find Fly Guy, I don’t think you can even run it, but if you can, don’t play it. It’s real bad.” I say “joke”, but it’s not a joke. Don’t play Fly Guy. It’s real bad.

The main menu for FluGuy on mobile

You know what? I’ve never really… explained why Fly Guy is bad. Firstly, we did it as an internal game jam game. We set a two-week deadline for the web build, I did all the art personally, along with the game design document, and the programmer, well, programmed. The game that came out of it almost completely ignored the design document. Now, that’s not to say the game would’ve been great if it had followed the design document, but it would’ve been way better. Because of this, we never even pursued the mobile build. If I can say anything, though, the music was great! It was a techno piece inspired by “Flight of the Bumblebee” called “Bumbly Bee” by Zach Paulus, who you may now know as one of the artists for Hazbin Hotel (HI ZACH!)

Anyway, after trying and failing to get Physix off the ground as well (he ignored that design document too), we let him go. That was that. This meant that we had both of our other programmers working on Collapsus. We went to another A&G with Physix, then to Pandoracon in 2013. That means we did three events at that point. We wouldn’t touch another until 2015… and with that, we basically just put Physix on the back burner as well.

The Collapsus 2006 prototype. WOOF!

Okay. So, 2014 rolls around. Collapsus is going places, but everyone’s pretty tired just working from my apartment. Completely understandable. All the way back in 2007, I tried to get some office space in this beautiful art deco building by the river, but it was just out of our budget. I approached them again in 2014, and we signed a lease for a 300 sq/f office. The “beige box”, as we started calling it. It was all going well… at least I thought. As the two other programmers still working on Collapsus started to burn out, we brought on two more to help them. So, we had three people programming Collapsus, and then one to start Physix back up. Around this time, I ended up moving a block away from the studio. Then a wild Steve appeared!

Lance working on the mural

Steve’s interesting. We knew each other from school. All the way back in the early days of Wraith I asked him to join, but due to a misunderstanding of cosmic proportions, he decided to stay as far away as possible. But having followed us for a while on social media, he decided he wanted in. Having Steve to join the team was one of the best things that could have ever happened to us. Around this time, Lance, who was already a veteran of the industry, also joined. Both of them pushed for better social media and website design. Steve undertook a massive rebrand of the company’s image (we had this terrible old logo that made us look like a really terrible garageband, all bloody fonts in black and red). We started doing a studio remodel, with Lance beginning a beautiful mural. We became an LLC. Oh, and I almost forgot:

All our programmers quit.

Looks like we’re going to drop the next great album!

Yeah. Right? It was one of the worst weeks of my life. They all left for different reasons and hadn’t talked to each other about it. You would’ve thought that they might have. Three of them got job offers at different places. A lot of money. The other had to quit for health reasons. It was pretty obvious, though. Collapsus was a lot of the problem. They all felt like they had to crunch. I probably pushed them too hard. The scope of the game was out of control, and at this point, the code was restarted from the ground up four whole times. I can’t blame any of them. Part of me feels like I killed their dreams.

I was ready to burn it all to the ground. All we had left was artists and designers. We couldn’t see the game to completion without programmers. Kristy was working on Computer Science at her university, but she was nowhere near ready to tackle it, especially not picking up someone else’s code. But Steve stepped in. Told me not to give up. We’d do a remodel, and rebrand. Be reborn. We’d completely change how we were doing things. Lance is the one who asked me how I really want the business to be run. That’s when we became really more like an artists’ collective than a traditional software company. No crunch. Flexible. Ethical. In a way that it never occurred to me that we weren’t before. The industry practices that we saw elsewhere and desperately tried to emulate had already eaten some of us. There had to be a better way, and we were going to find it.

WOW! Our booth really had a glow-up over the years, huh?

We still had a problem, though. Even if we were going to reinvent ourselves inside and out, we needed programmers. Steve encouraged me not to worry about that for now. I was in a bad place. He’d gone to an event before: OGDE. Said we should go. Show off what we had. It would be good to gauge interest, and just to lift everyone’s spirits. Honestly, while the trip was great, absolutely great, great for Collapsus; Steve and I realized that we were not getting along at events. We both had different expectations for what we wanted out of this event. It took this kind of friction to learn. As many of you probably remember, this was also where we first started talking with the AbleGamers, a path that would change everything for us. It doubled our resolve, though. It’s funny to think of; we’d only ever done three events before this. This would change our entire trajectory. From then on, we’d promote at events as our primary market. Go super grassroots.

Our first Vector… oh the memories!

A couple months later, we went to our first Vector in Kentucky. There, we picked up Collapsus’ new lead programmer, Mark. He was going to help Kristy finish the game. Kristy ended up moving on to Radarkanoid for a while, though. From then on, everything started happening so fast, even if it was still slower than everyone wanted.

During this time, we were brought in to be Nintendo licenced developers, picking up our very own Wii U dev kit! That was a lifelong dream. Finally being able to be an actual Nintendo developer. That was crazy! I thought that that was the best moment of my life until then, as very odd as that sounds. Just a couple months later, we were picked up to be part of both Xbox’s and Playstation’s developer programs, but it’s still Nintendo that feels the best. When the Switch was announced, we even picked up a publisher in Ratalaika Games. Somehow, we didn’t cause them to close their doors.

Showing off Collapsus at SAAM Arcade. Look, Ma, we made it!

Over those next five years, we went to Indy Popcon, local festivals, Ohayocon, playtest nights… until it was back to OGDE… or should I say, GDEX now? Ever since 2015, we’ve been doing 15 events a year. Not just local stuff. We’ve been flying and driving all over the country. We were part of Game Masters: The Exhibition, won an AbleGamers’ accessibility award at GDEX, showcased at PAX a couple times, were inducted into Magfest’s MIVS. In one month we started at the Smithsonian’s SAAM Arcade, and then flew to California for Indie Prize! Personally, I had the honor of speaking on the Magfest accessibility panel, and then speaking at GA Conf (the first time I’d ever been to California). I’ve given double-digit talks at events and schools, even got on the board of my old school’s game development program. Our team has spoken on NPR twice, on Fox News (I was in a kilt), and in countless more newspapers, podcasts, and blogs. It’s been THE wildest ride! Heck, Collapsus was even Greenlit on Steam when that was still a think!

During the last couple years, we’ve even made the companion app to Galatune (and made lasting friendships with their team), and initiated several other similar contracts that we’re not even allowed to speak of yet! We’ve also taken our 300 sq/f studio and expanded it, taking over most of the floor of the building to now over 2000 sq/f. We picked up more people, too, to fill the roles of those who left. But they can’t be replaced. Not really. All we can do is be better.

Our very own Galatune champion, Yorick!

It feels almost like a roller coaster. You’re going up the first hill, and it’s nothing but anxiety. You want off. You feel like the whole thing was a mistake. What a bad idea getting on this roller coaster was. Then, at the precipice… release. As soon as you get over the feeling like you’re going to die and that the world has been pulled out from underneath you; everything’s just going so fast, all around you. You don’t have time to think about how you felt before the drop. All that tension, gone. Nothing but thrill and excitement. Every new twist and turn going faster and faster. Experiencing things that you never thought you’d see before. It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. It’s the realization that this is why you got on the ride in the first place. Yeah, there are gonna be ups and downs. Parts where you panic a little more than you should. But nothing’s like that initial slow climb. You don’t regret it anymore.

Now, of course, Collapsus isn’t out yet. There are some revelations in here that I’ve not shared with anyone outside of the team. We usually don’t report on the bad in the blog when it happens. Who would? I was going to save a lot of this story for Collapsus’ post mortem dev blog. I’ll probably cover a little of that ground when we get there, but there’s so much more Collapsus-specific stuff that fits better in that post. This is our decade. This is our 15th anniversary. Collapsus has been here a long time, through most of this journey. But it’s not the story of Wraith, and this post isn’t the story of Collapsus. You’ll have to wait just a few months to hear that one.

We’ve really come a long way!

But here’s to the old decade, and here’s to the new. We’re not gonna give up. Thank you, everyone who made all of this possible. Statistically speaking, most of you are “post-2015” people. I’m glad I could give you this story. Now, if it was early in the decade, I’d say “Play Harder”, but here, I’ll just say, “Do what you love and love what you do.” It will be all worth it in the end.

See you all in the far-off year of 2020!


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